By Nate Buchik
Photo courtesy of HBO
Ricky Gervais of 'The Office' fame, stars in the new BBC/HBO series 'Extras.' Sprinklings of celebrity and wit will spice up HBO's Sunday night lineup. Our apologies to anyone without this fabulous channel.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 22, 2005
How do you follow up what is arguably the funniest show in the history of television? Just add celebrities.
"Extras," the new comedy from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the creators of "The Office," is almost as funny as its predecessor and has the added bonus of having a celebrity guest star in every episode.
Kate Winslet appears in the opener and proceeds to give advice to the characters on how to talk dirty. It's disgusting, hilarious and perfect for HBO.
The show originally aired on the BBC, and its six episodes were picked up stateside by America's best channel, HBO.
Gervais once again stars in his own show, this time as Andy, a "proper actor" who can only get roles as an extra because he's 40, overweight and has an inept agent (played by Merchant).
Each episode tells the story of a new production, with Andy and his friend Maggie running around the set as extras. Their personal lives sometimes come into play, but you'll always see Maggie trying to find someone on set to date, and Andy usually begging the star of the film to get him a line.
While Gervais is a different character in this show, shades of David Brent still shine through in the show's themes. His slight prejudices are once again always exposed and his longing for recognition is there, but in an understandably desperate way. This is a kinder, more lovable Gervais. Brent was the antagonist in "The Office," but the audience definitely roots for Andy in "Extras."
The reason "Extras" isn't better than "The Office" is because of the supporting cast. While Merchant is good as Andy's agent, Maggie's character is lacking. And unlike its predecessor, "Extras" doesn't have five other supporting characters to pick up the ones that aren't as strong.
But the celebrities certainly help.
Ben Stiller appears in an episode directing a movie about a war-torn Bosnian family. The way Stiller lampoons his box office success and acts the part of the jerk is great, much like it was during the fourth season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Patrick Stewart and Samuel L. Jackson also guest star, along with a couple British celebrities who don't ring any bells.
This leads to one of the main themes of the show: the idea of celebrity. Andy and Maggie run around the set without being noticed or respected, while the stars get all the attention. But Gervais and Merchant try to make fun of celebrities, with each star being neurotic but still normal.
But what sets apart "Extras" from most sitcoms is the emotional pull the characters have on you. "Friends" took 150 episodes before anyone really cared about Ross and Rachel, but Gervais and Merchant have managed to work their magic again in only a few episodes, balancing comedy and drama the way very few sitcoms are able to do.
By the end of the season, Andy is moving into an interesting direction with his career. Make sure you find someone with HBO so you can see what happens.